August 7, 2018 – It’s the age-old story of a boy and his horse—and his dog, of course. When winemaker Michael Simons was just a kid, he had a paper route in the outskirts of Santa Barbara. Instead of riding a bicycle, he rode his horse, Comanche. The two had many fine times together, even enjoying success on the rodeo circuit. But instead of the cowboy life, Simons pursued a career as a contractor instead. It suits him, as he not only has an eye for design and detail, he also has magnificent taste. Even though he was already busier than a one-armed paperhanger, he fell in love with wine and had to make some for himself.
Well, one batch turned into three and three into ten and so and so on. He found great vineyard sources throughout Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Benito counties: the obsession grew. He couldn’t resist trying every oddball variety that caught his fancy. Pretty soon his basement and the entire house were overflowing with barrels. Unwittingly, he was officially in the wine business.
Simons decided to call his new brand Comanche Cellars, and set about designing a wine label that would honor his boyhood friend. Each label bears an image of Comanche’s horseshoes and Simons hopes each bottle of his wine will bring good luck.
With all this wine in barrel and bottle, it was high time he got serious about a tasting room. So, he rented some space from Annette Hoff of Cima Collina and began making wine at her custom crush spot in Marina.
He’s been serving wine as part of Urban Wine Row for the last couple of years, waiting for the right spot to become available in downtown Monterey, where he resides with his wife, Wendy. Possessed of quick wit, a fabulous sense of humor and a great deal of patience, she initially thought (prayed) he’d outgrow this wine infatuation, but realized this was his dream and she’s been cheerleading him on ever since.
Earlier this year, Simons finally found an ideal spot at 412 Alvarado Street, next door to the historic Monterey Hotel. Naturally, he did most of the work on the remodel himself, being a consummate perfectionist. He personally selected all the materials, including the beautiful copper tops for the bars, which will have rusty looking metal fixtures to fit the general cowboy theme. Warm walls, barn doors, cozy, inviting furniture and plenty of window seating make this a place you’ll want to hang up your spurs, grab a glass and rest a spell while you taste through the seemingly endless selection of wines.
How does he do it?? Highlights of the wine portfolio are many, but this one really stands out. The 2015 Char Eva Pinot Noir from a marvelous little vineyard gem in Arroyo Seco just got 92 Points from Wine Enthusiast, August 2018 issue. Aromas of sweet raspberries, fern, juniper, Asian five spice and raindrops on slate meet bold flavors of pomegranate and blackberry tea in this first class rendition of red-blooded pinot noir.
Simons excels at Pinots from the Santa Cruz Mountains, too. Both the 2013 and 2014 Saveria Vineyard Pinots are pure red-fruited bliss, beautifully balanced with floral and strawberry rhubarb aromatics, wet forest, fern, cinnamon stick and Darjeeling tea.
Love Tempranillo? His 2014 from Pierce Ranch will send your kites flying with its cranberry, red plum, prosciutto, raspberry and mortadella. It’s a juicy, acid-driven wine that can get out of its own way.
As if he didn’t have enough wines already —we should mention the Mesa del Sol Syrah, the Old Vine Zin from Santa Clara Valley and the Merlot under the Comanche Cellars label.
Simons has also started a second label called Dog & Pony. He tells the story of a stray dog that followed him one day when he and Comanche were on their paper route. The dog, who had a bad habit of chasing cars, followed the two home, and as much as Michael’s Dad tried to dissuade the dog from staying, stay he did. Michael called his adopted buddy Maverick, and that dog followed faithfully along behind Comanche, never missing a day. The Dog and Pony brand is named in honor of the special friendship these three merry misfits shared.
Michael’s Dog & Pony offerings are well-made, well-priced and accessible. Don’t pass up the 2014 Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir, an absolute steal at $18. Its aromas of cranberry orange marmalade and raindrops on slate set the stage for a Burgundy-like sensation that whisks away the dust of the old Chisholm Trail.
The 2016 Dog & Pony Albariño is sassy and citrusy, just the way it should be. Tree-ripe peaches, mandarin, honeysuckle and salty ocean spray meet yellow pluot, nectarine and orange honeycomb. It’s texturally intriguing and a perfect pair with seafood tapas.
You’ll find some intriguing blends under this label, each of which tells its own story. Because, after all, wine is storytelling. Each bottle tells a story, and wine stories are meant to be shared, like cowboy poetry and tunes around the campfire.
Beginning Saturday, August 11, you’re invited to visit the brand new Comanche Cellars tasting room at 412 Alvarado Street, right next to the Monterey Hotel. Look for the Dog & Pony sign.
Comanche Cellars plans to be open 7 days a week: Monday through Thursday, 2—7pm, Friday, 2—8pm, Saturday, 1—8pm and Sunday, 1—6pm.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.